Recently I've started offering my services as a composer, and I've done this for a few reasons.
- I've grown confident enough in my abilities as a game music composer that I can legitimately offer my services for projects.
- While I make lots of music for my own Game Projects, there is often a long time between need for music, so I can fill that gap nicely with projects for other people.
- I think that working to someone else's vision is an interesting challenge to have.
- I think that at the moment there's a demand for music made for smaller hobbyist or passion projects, and I'd like to help there specifically, though not exclusively.
None of this is particularly financially motivated. Like anything, if you are successful enough in it, it might be possible to make a living off of it. But mainly I'm doing it out of self-fulfilment and a sense of wanting to help out a particular niche.
But I don't work for free, on principle. I think the time that I spend making music is worth something. While exceptions can be made for example for game jams and the like, and for projects where there is some sort of charitable or moral cause where I can write off the value of my work a 'donation.' But I think it sets a poor precedent to value one's work at £0 - plus whatever exposure it happens to get you.
I don't really feel the need to go into my reasoning any further there - if you honestly think that artists should be expected to work for free until they break out, then I don't know what to tell you except: no.
But this desire to get paid for my work does run up against item 4 on my list up there. The projects I am most likely to be interested in right now are the least likely to have much of a budget. It feels rather more awkward asking for someone for a bunch of money when they're making this game in the small hours between going to work, or when said money is going to come out of their student loan, or when everyone else on the project is hoping to sell it, but are treating it as a passion project for now. Or, indeed, any of the other cases that might come up now that the idea of making games for money isn't limited to companies with a business plan and a starting budget.
But even so, there are things that can be done, creative deals that can be made.
If the developer is willing, perhaps a profit-share percentage can be agreed upon, and if they have any budget at all, perhaps a recoupable advance can be agreed to cover expenses and protect against the risk that a game might not get shipped.
Or perhaps it doesn't even need to be quite so mathsy. If you'd rather just agree a per-minute rate for the music, maybe set the payment terms up so that a certain amount is payable on delivery, and the rest is due a month after the first commercial release, or something similar. When working for people I consider friends or at least particularly reliable acquaintances, I'm willing to consider postponing up to 100% of the payment until the game goes on sale. If it's someone I have a more professional relationship with, then obviously I'd expect to see money earlier in the process.
The point of all this isn't necessarily to give you ideas for how to charge people for music, but rather to show that there isn't a single right answer. It should be possible for a couple of grown ups to figure out a way to get the thing made where everyone gets paid.
Obviously whether you are composing 'on the side' as a passion thing like me, or trying to make a business out of it will make a difference to what sort of deals you can accept, too. The ability to be flexible works both ways.
But don't be persuaded into believing that working for free is a necessary part of starting out. If it's not your own personal project, and it's not a specific exception such as the ones I mentioned above, then your work is worth something.